Alligators, Accidents, and False Guilt

If you're a parent, you're a pro in the What-If game. Matt and Melissa Graves, whose two-year-old son, Lane, was seized and drowned by an alligator earlier this week, will be playing the What-If game the rest of their lives.

Last year, in the neighborhood where my children live, a little boy who was playing in his front yard, darted out into the street. A construction worker was driving by in his pickup. It happened so quickly no one--not the boy, not the driver, not the parents--could stop it. That mom and dad, along with the driver, will be playing the What-If game the rest of their lives.

Only it's not a game. It's dead serious. A haunting exercise of altering the unalterable past. A toxic mind exercise of reversing the irreversible. What cannot be done we try to do in our heads. And the fuel that drives us is guilt. Not guilt over what we have done wrong, but guilt over what we wish we'd have done differently. It's false guilt.

What's strange is that false guilt often plagues us more than true guilt. Children blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. Husbands blame themselves for their wife’s suicide. Parents think they’re to blame for accidents that claimed the lives of their children.

There’s plenty of true sins for which we feel true guilt. But it’s the false guilt over non-sins that keeps us awake at night. We play the “if only I had done ______” game of self-torture.

I could try to convince you that your feelings of guilt are misplaced. You did nothing wrong. You are not to blame. Things happen over which you have no control. There’s no way you could have seen that alligator. There’s no way you could have prevented your parents’ fights. People make their own decisions. We can’t control them. We can only control our reaction to them.

I could tell you these things. But, honestly, I tell myself these same things on a regular basis, and they wind up providing little comfort. The truth is that we are flawed beyond the reach of psychological reasoning.

We are a tiny part of a deeply flawed world. And our tiny part of the world is just as deeply flawed.

There are cracks in our souls, flaws in the core of our being that are deeper and broader than the Grand Canyon. They are full of true and false guilt, addictions and angers, regrets and shame, horrors over what we’ve done, what’s been done to us, and heartbreaking events that were beyond our control.

Our flaws are deeper and broader and full of more pain that any reasoning or counseling can fully cure.

We are right to say that Jesus paid the price for our sins, that he takes our guilt away. But the truth is that we need more than a Savior from our own sin. We also need more than a Savior from other people’s sins against us. We need a Savior who heals us finally from evils over which no one had any control. Evils that are part of a fallen world where animals kill people, pickups run over children, floods drown, hurricanes crush, cancers kill.

We need a God who can heal us of true guilt and false guilt. We need a Christ who not only removes the shame we feel for what we’ve done, but who washes away the shame that others have smeared upon us. We need a Lord who promises not just to fix the parts of us that are broken, but who totally remakes us into new creatures.

And that’s the Savior we have. “Look, I am making all things new,” he says (Rev 21:5). Did you hear that? All. Things. New. Not most things. Not just the things you feel true guilt over. Not just the shame over what you’ve done wrong. "I am making all things new."

He makes all of me new, all of you new. The cracks in our souls, those deep and broad flaws in the core of our being, he fills with himself. The Grand Canyon within us, full of guilts and fears and shames and regrets and horrors unspeakable, he fills with his forgiveness and healing and love and compassion. When fissures begin to show again--and they will--he fills them once more. And he will keep on filling us with himself until the day of the resurrection, when, finally all guilt--true and false--will cease.

“It is finished,” Jesus said right before he died. And he meant it. He finished the work of making us new by being made all that is wrong with the world and with us.

There is a true Savior for false guilt. There is a true Savior for all flaws, all pains, all that’s wrong with us and the world in which we live. He is one who makes all things new. He is the one who gives us peace when we're at war with ourselves.